Augment My Reality
Virtual Reality isn’t the only way to change how you view the world.
Since Virtual Reality was introduced into our actual realties, as far back as 1962 with Mort Heilig’s Sensorama, it has been a stop-and-go struggle to get to the mainstream. VR has been overshadowed by the personal computer, Internet, and smart phone technology. It also suffered design-wise, marred by some pretty clunky and uncomfortable gear. And so the reality of Virtual Reality, though never completely gone, receded into the background.
That is, until Palmer Luckey broke onto the scene. In 2012, thanks to a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $2.5 million in just 30 days, he revealed a revolutionary VR headset called Oculus Rift. It soon became a beacon of hope, a sign that perhaps the VR code had been cracked. The improved technology, computing power, and display—which included less of the pesky motion-sickness many experienced with other headsets—even made Facebook take notice. In 2014, the social media pioneer purchased Oculus for $2 billion, a clear sign that it believed in the power and future of VR.In a 2015 interview with The Verge, Luckey explained, “Why Facebook? Why not a company like Microsoft or Google, or a company that does hardware? …to be honest, we’re not looking for a partner who knows hardware, because we have an incredible hardware team. We didn’t want to be bought by somebody who was going to shred us apart and make us part of their product line.”
So why all the hype? The basics of VR is that you don a goggle-style headset to go “virtually” inside a video game, moving and playing in a world that’s completely computer-simulated. But with today’s technology, there’s so much more to it than just games. With Sony, Microsoft, Samsung, HTC Vive, and others creating their own VR gear, the aim is to alter our version of reality in areas beyond entertainment like education, health and healthcare, architecture, design, city planning, transportation, and more.
Immerse Yourself in AR
Pokémon Go has entertained and consumed millions, but there are plenty more games that mix AR with real life in fun and fascinating ways. Here’s three to get you started.
1. Zombies, Run!
Available on both iOS and Android, this is a great workout app, especially if you hate working out. After all, what better motivation is there than being chased by zombies?
Perfect for all the astronomical nerds out there and available on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows, the app lets you identify the celestial bodies and figure out where to see other points in the sky.
3. Field Trip
Offered on iOS and Android, this is less of a game and more of an interactive tour guide to get you to points of interest, plus strange historical sites, shops, and hidden dining and drinking spots.
Things are advancing quickly: a surgeon in England live-streamed the first operation in 360-degree video, the Department of Defense is experimenting with virtual versions of Iraq and Afghanistan to help soldiers with PTSD, astronauts at NASA are training with it, and cruise industry shipyard Meyer Werft has a VR lab that allows the naval architects, engineers, and designers to “tour” ships in pre-construction, helping to eliminate potential design flaws before they become actual flaws.
And now the path of VR progression is leading to Augmented Reality worlds—meaning technology that allows us to overlay virtual content onto real time objects. For a few years, AR wasn’t even in the headlines, as most people focused on the possibilities of VR with the aforementioned headsets. In 2013, Google tried to bring it to the masses with the launch of Google Glass, a wearable computer in the form of sleek glasses that retailed around $1,500. It fell short of expectations.
Enter Pokémon Go. When it came out, many scoffed at the game that uses your phone’s GPS to detect where you are and make digital monsters “appear” around you. But it rapidly became a sensation with a cult-like following of fans gathering everywhere to “catch” pocket creatures. According to Fortune magazine in July 2016, “Yes, Pokémon may be a game for teens and millennials, but it has irrevocably changed societal expectations of what information is presented and how it is accessed.”
It may seem like a stretch, but there’s a real connection to be made between Pokémon Go and the art world. Take Amir Baradaran for example, a New York-based Iranian-Canadian performance and new media artist interested in AR technology and VR systems to build fully interactive worlds.
“I wanted to think about how AR would change how bodies come together and interact with one another, and also how we understand our sense of self,” said Baradaran. “There were two big projects that I did and both of them dealt with infiltrating museums.”
The first project, Takeoff, took place as part of “WeARinMoMA” in 2010, the first international AR exhibition. In this piece, Baradaran created a video of taking off in a director’s chair and crashing back down to earth, which visitors watched via a smartphone app. Then, in 2011, Baradaran blurred the line between real and unreal once again with an installation of a video performance streaming live over the image of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. Using an AR smartphone application, Frenchising Mona Lisa showed the Mona Lisa (an Italian woman painted by an Italian man) raising her hands to don a head covering in the colors of the French flag.
“For an artist, there is more to the world than the walls when it comes to AR,” said Baradaran. “We can look at the world as a white canvas, which basically means that I can place my artwork anywhere I want without being kicked out.”
Time will tell what the new developments will be in the VR and AR worlds, but one thing is for certain: the seemingly sci-fi future is now a real-world reality.
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